I'm a snob about ice, especially the kind you put in a drink. Crystal clear ice has a particular hold over me. It looks absolutely stunning, but more importantly, it melts slowly, and doesn't dilute your drink aggressively or add extra flavors. It's the perfect complement to a pricey pour of bourbon.
When Louisville-based microfactory FirstBuild announced plans for a fancy clear ice machine, you can understand my excitement. Then FirstBuild offered me a chance to see the $1,499 Forge Clear Ice System in action. Of course, I jumped on it.
It might be easy to assume that making clear ice is simple, but it's actually a difficult task, especially for an appliance. Most mechanical ice makers, whether inside refrigerators or stand-alone machines, favor speed over quality.
Freezing clear ice though takes time, typically 12 to 24 hours at least. FirstBuild claims the Forge can pull it off in just 4 hours. The Forge makes not one, but two large, square blocks in that period. FirstBuild also says there's room in the machine to store six of those ice blocks, where it keeps the ice cold, but yet not so cold that it becomes untempered.
Ice at very low temperatures often cracks when it comes into contact with warmer liquids. The outside surface of tempered ice is closer to room temperature. That means less potential for thermal shock, and unsightly cracks forming in your transparent ice.
I saw a prototype of the Forge firsthand when I went to visit FirstBuild. Unfortunately, the company was only willing to demonstrate part of the Forge system, its sphere ice press. The main unit that freezes and stores blocks of ice is still under wraps. FirstBuild engineers told me that while the freezing and storage unit is a fully functional prototype right now, it isn't exactly pretty. They'd rather wait until that component is closer to production.
Regardless, the ice press is a slick machine in its own right. Unlike the Japanese ice presses it's inspired by, the Forge's press is heated electrically. Those other models ask you to provide heat in the form of hot water. The Forge doesn't require that extra step. You just place your ice block in the press and it takes care of the rest. Two minutes later, the press creates a perfect sphere of clear ice. Melted water runs off into a collection tray below.
To drive home the idea that the Forge is a luxury appliance, FirstBuild will bundle the machine with a few accessories. One is a set of steel ice tongs. More like calipers, the tongs have a sharp point to allow users to grab onto ice securely. They're also spring-loaded and have wooden grips, giving the tool an old-timey aesthetic.
Another twist is an ice stamping tool with an engraved steel tip. With it you'll be able to brand ice spheres with personalized logos, monogrammed initials, or other custom designs.
Even though I only saw a limited sneak peek of the $1,499 Forge, I came away impressed. At that price, the Forge is a niche product to be sure, and it should offer features no home ice maker can match. Compared to premium clear ice machines from Scotsman and True, the Forge is slightly more affordable.
That said, the Forge won't be able to keep up with the quantity of ice you get from those larger products, which make up to 30 pounds of clear ice per day. FirstBuild envisions the Forge as a countertop home bar accessory, rather than a product meant to serve ice to large gatherings. Still, it's a significant leap in price over FirstBuild's other novelty ice maker, the reasonably priced $300 Opal Nugget Ice.
If the Forge works as advertised, it will surely find a small market among the cocktail diehards at the time it's supposed to ship (November, 2019) . It also feels like the exact kind of innovative, small-batch product FirstBuild was conceived to produce.